Once you've given scammers your money, it's too late for police

Monday, October 13, 2014
Scott Stockton, a 28-year member of the Indiana State Police who will be the next Putnam County sheriff as he's unopposed in the general election, speaks with exhibitor Alisa Calhoun during his appearance at the recent Putnam Senior Fair to talk about scams and how to avoid them. (Photo by ERIC BERNSEE)

Among them, veteran local police officials Scott Stockton, Tom Sutherlin and Pat McFadden represent some 75 years of service to Greencastle, Putnam County and the State of Indiana.

But when it comes to residents being victimized by one of the many scams circulating these days, not even all that accumulated law enforcement experience by Indiana State Police First Sgt./Putnam County Sheriff-in-waiting Stockton (he's unopposed on the Nov. 4 ballot), Greencastle Police Chief Sutherlin and Putnam County Sheriff's Department Det. McFadden can do much of anything to help you.

Once victims have taken the bait, it is rare they can wriggle off the hook.

"There's no positive outcome," Stockton said in an interview with the Banner Graphic recently. "Once you've been scammed, it's over. That money's gone. It's worldwide. You don't know where is it, you don't know who it is."

Chief Sutherlin agreed.

"There's nothing as local law enforcement we can do about it," Sutherlin said. "There's no way to investigate it."

That's because the scammers are good at covering their tracks, confusing those they call and cashing in on the right demographic.

Calls can be redirected via computer from Walla Walla, Wash., to Kalamazoo. The scammed and the investigators alike don't know if the calls have come from down the block or around the world. The source could be Canada, Nigeria or Russia for all they know.

"They make it almost impossible to get to the source," McFadden noted.

Currently making their way around Putnam County, across Indiana and all over the U.S. are a number of scams, including the IRS Scam, the Grandparent Scam, construction scams, reshipping scams and overseas lottery scams.

"Hey, I've won the European lottery," Stockton smiled, alluding to the email and phone call scams associated with sending money to pay for taxes up front on dollars you have supposedly won.

The IRS scam, meanwhile, features a threatening telephone call (see Daze Work sidebar), advising recipients they need to wire some money to avoid facing prosecution or a grand jury appearance.

At the recent Putnam County Senior Fair, Stockton set up a table and talked with folks about the ongoing scams.

"About 85 percent said, 'I get those calls all the time. I just hang up on them.'"

Another bristled and offered, "I know better than to give out any information over the phone."

Those are great answers, police agree.

But then one of the senior ladies talking with Stockton also admitted she had sent money to one of the callers a couple years back.

The visual that conjures up, Stockton suggested, is putting your money in one of those pneumatic tubes banks use to transfer checks and money from the drive-through to the tellers inside.

"Once you put it in that tube," he smiled, smacking his hands together, "it's gone."

State Police at Putnamville probably get a couple of calls per day about scam activity, Stockton said, while the Sheriff's Department routinely deals with a couple of situations a month, McFadden said.

City Police, Chief Sutherlin said, "get calls from time to time. You can't put a number on it. We just know it's out there."

And when those calls come, the chief noted, it's usually too late.

"We get the phone calls when it's the worst, and they've already given or sent the money," Sutherlin said.

The Grandparent Scam is one that preys on older residents, calling mostly late at night to add to the confusion, professing to be a grandson or granddaughter either in jail in a foreign country or some faraway place, needing bail money or cash for car repairs.

And, they advise the sympathetic grandparent, "please don't call mom and dad," feigning embarrassment.

Stockton recalled dealing with an acquaintance whose parents were victimized for "$2,500 a pop twice" in a scam in which the grandchild appeared to have been calling from Mexico in trouble.

Sutherlin and a Kroger store clerk combined to keep an older local woman from being scammed about a year ago.

The courtesy counter clerk was trying to convince the woman she was biting on a scam when Chief Sutherlin happened to join the line, urging the woman to listen to the clerk and suggesting she "leave here and go call your family" to verify that her grandchild was not in trouble.

Told she was being scammed, the woman still asserted, "I've got to help him!" before finally listening to reason and saving herself a couple thousand dollars.

Sutherlin suggests that simple questions can trip up the caller, who has usually pirated some personal information off Facebook and other social media or hacked into some account without having many facts.

"Ask questions," Sutherlin said. "Ask them the names of the parents. Date of birth.Where they went to school."

Some simple logic is appropriate:

-- If it seems too good to be true, like the lottery scam, it probably is.

-- Get an answering machine to monitor calls, they generally will drop computer-generated calls.

-- If you don't recognize a phone number that comes up on your answering machine or cell phone, don't answer it.

"Prevention is the key," Stockton said, suggesting that educating tellers, other people at the bank, cashiers and other employees at Kroger and Walmart to "know when an elderly person's behavior is so out of kilter."

McFadden agreed.

"It's all about people being educated," he said. "The message I'd like to leave is that if you suspect you or a relative is being scammed, contact our office as soon as possible."

But sadly that can even be too late if the money has exchanged hands or bank accounts.

"Whatever it is," the detective noted of the scammers' offense, "is not very likely prosecutable.

"You're in reverse from the beginning," he added, "and you're likely to end up with some very unhappy victims, but there's really nothing you (officers) can do."

Nothing that is but educate and caution you.

Consider yourselves warned.

The companion opinion piece to this story, written by Editor ERIC BERNSEE, can be found HERE

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